by Robert Spencer
As Oklahoma has now voted to ban Sharia, and an openly pro-Sharia Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is going ahead with plans to build a triumphal mega-mosque at Ground Zero, Sharia is more in the public consciousness than ever — and so Islamic supremacists such as Reza Aslan are working harder than ever to confuse the American people about what Sharia is, so as to defuse opposition to it.
Aslan, although considered to be a moderate exponent of a modern Islam, is actually a Board member of the National Iranian American Council, a group that is widely regarded as an apologetic vehicle for the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has called on the U.S. Government to negotiate not only with Ahmadinejad but with Hamas — that is, with some of the most barbaric and genocidally-inclined adherents of Sharia. And so it should come as no surprise that on this Australian television show, “Fear of Islam,” from SBS Insight, November 2, he retails some of the most common talking points that Islamic supremacists are circulating these days in order to deceive people as to the nature of Sharia and belittle resistance to the spread of elements of it in the United States and in Western countries in general. (The transcript is full of errors, some slightly amusing — “idea logs” — but is clear enough.)
The program, predictably enough, is focused not on the manifest increase in jihad activity, but on the alleged increase of “anti-Islamic sentiment”:
Anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise across Europe and the United States. In the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Britain and Germany debate is raging about immigration and the compatibility of Islam with Western values – the latest foiled terror plot originating in Yemen has done nothing to quell people’s fears.
No kidding, really?
In the United States anti-Islamic sentiment is higher now than after the September 11 terror attacks. Recent polls show nearly half of Americans hold unfavourable views of Islam. So, what is driving this increased hostility, that’s what we are talking about tonight and you can join us via Facebook and Twitter as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everybody, good to have you all here. I’d like to start by going to the United States, and to you Reza Aslan in Los Angeles, you were an American Muslim, you were born in Iran. Why do you think anti-Islamic sentiment is higher now than immediately after September 11 – is it related to these foiled terror plots or is it deeper than that?
REZA ASLAN, RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: Well I think there are a number of reasons for it, certainly the economy plays a role in all of this, in times of economic distress, it’s only natural for people – and Americans have done this for many years – to look for a scapegoat. Depending on where you live in this country, the scapegoats are either, frankly, Mexicans or Muslims. So, you know, God save you if you happened to be a Mexican Muslim in America right now.
There are many things Reza Aslan is not, and one of them is an original thinker. He is in this retailing talking points that we saw just recently coming from Rashad Hussain, Obama’s Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference: that the bad economy has people looking for a scapegoat, and that they’ve fastened upon Muslims.
I don’t know who originated this theme, but it is a brazen attempt to divert attention away from the sole and obvious cause of any actual suspicion of Muslims or Islam in the U.S.: the ever-increasing number of terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims who explain and justify their actions by reference to Islamic texts and teachings. That Aslan did not lead with that as his answer to the question about why “anti-Islamic sentiment” is supposedly rising is the clearest indication that he is not intending to clarify matters or deal with this problem honestly.
Also part of it has to do with a sense of war weariness in the United States – we have been involved in wars in the region for about 10 years and I think there’s something important here that isn’t talked about enough, and it’s Barak [sic] Obama. One-fifth of Americans, 20% believe that Barak [sic] Obama is, himself, a Muslim and in fact – amongst Republicans that number is almost 40%. Polls show in this country, that the more you disagree with Barak [sic] Obama’s domestic policies, the more likely you are to think that he is a Muslim.
I don’t know by what method of calculation Aslan determined that 31% (which is the actual number of surveyed Republicans saying they thought Obama was a Muslim) was “almost 40%,” but hey, they invented algebra. Anyway, Aslan here is apparently saying that “anti-Islamic sentiment” is rising because people think Obama is a Muslim, and they don’t like Obama’s policies, and so they blame Islam for them. Once again, he is insulting the intelligence of the American people. If large numbers of people believe Obama is a Muslim, it is because of his hostility (unprecedented in a president of the United States) toward Israel, his unwillingness to do anything effective about Iran’s nuclear program, and his indefatigable dedication to coddling and appeasing the Dar al-Islam, even to the point of absurdity, as when he told NASA’s chief that one of his primary responsibilities would be — not space exploration! — making Muslims feel good about the alleged scientific achievements of the Islamic world.
And if there is any actual rise in “anti-Islamic sentiment,” it is not because befuddled American yahoos think that nationalizing health care and the banking and auto industries are Muslim policies implemented by a Muslim president, but because Islamic jihadists just in the last few days sent bombs via UPS to synagogues in Chicago and stormed a church in Baghdad, murdering 58 people. Then there was the Fort Hood jihad shooting, the Arkansas recruiting center jihad shooting, the Christmas underwear bomb jihad attempt, the Times Square jihad car bomb attempt, the Fort Dix jihad plot, the North Carolina jihad plot, the Seattle jihad shooting, the JFK Airport jihad plot, and on and on. But Reza Aslan, not surprisingly, doesn’t mention any of that.
The reason I bring this up is because what’s happened in the United States is something that has already happened in Europe and that is that Islam is become ‘otherised’, it has become a kind of receptacle into which fears and anxieties about the political or economic situation, about the changing racial landscape of this country are being thrown.
This is something common to the United States – Make no mistake – In fact, every single thing that has been said about Muslims, that they are un-American, that they are foreign, that they are exotic has been said in this country about Jews in the 20th century, was said about Catholics in this country, in the latter part of the 19th century, so it’s a common occurrence in the United States.
I think by all accounts in the same way we look back on the anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments of our history with shame and derision and with a healthy dose of mockery, that’s how we will very likely look back on this sort of anti-Muslim sentiment as well in the next generation.
Here again, Aslan is not engaging in any real analysis or actual thought; he is just repeating talking points that we have heard before from the likes of Muslim Brotherhood-linked Congressman Keith Ellison and Nicholas Kristof, among many others. Christopher Hitchens ably took apart the central claim being made here: “‘Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,’ Imam Abdullah Antepli, Muslim chaplain at Duke University, told the New York Times. Yes, we all recall the Jewish suicide bombers of that period, as we recall the Jewish yells for holy war, the Jewish demands for the veiling of women and the stoning of homosexuals, and the Jewish burning of newspapers that published cartoons they did not like.”
And as for Aslan’s assertion that “in the next generation” Americans will “very likely look back on this sort of anti-Muslim sentiment” with “shame and derision and with a healthy dose of mockery,” that’s all he has besides borrowed talking points originated by others. Aslan, as I will eventually demonstrate definitively when I publish his emails to me, cannot and will not deal on the level of facts and discuss matters rationally, but instead works consistently from the gutter. It is the only refuge he has given his manifest and abject intellectual vacuity.
Anyway, then the Australian TV show goes on to Nonie Darwish, who states some truths about the Qur’an, which are then contradicted by Muslim spokesmen. The problem with such discussions is that they deal in generalities; there is no time in such a setting for any extended examination of the contents of the Qur’an, and so the discussion amounts essentially to one person’s word against another’s. And so to Reza Aslan’s response:
REZA ASLAN: First of all, I have to say that it’s a weird feeling to have to respond to a Christian leader of an anti-Muslims organisation – it would be like having to respond to a Muslim leader of an anti-Jewish organisation about Judaism so the whole thing is kind of weird. Let me just say it’s kind of convenient to simply pick and choose whatever violent bits and pieces one finds in the Koran and ignore the equally important versus that talk about compassion and peace. There’s nothing strange or unusual about the Koran, the same Tora [sic] that gives us the 10 commandments commands the Jews to enact genocide upon every non-believer of Yaway [sic]. The same gospel telling us to turn the other cheek, also says “Jesus says I’ve come to bring the sword and not peace, and that he who doesn’t have a cloak should sell the cloak and buy a sword”.
The thing about scripture is, scripture talks about war and peace, love and hatred, compassion and bigotry, that is why it’s important, that’s why something that was written 5,000 years ago is still read today because it could be understood how you want to. Only an idea log [sic] or a bigot would choose to only focus on one part of the scripture, and ignore the other parts.
Aslan ignores, and probably hopes that his audience doesn’t know about, the mainstream Islamic theological idea that the chapters of the Qur’an that date from the Medinan period, which contain virtually all of the Qur’an’s directives to wage war against and subjugate unbelievers, take precedence over the chapters from the Meccan period, which teach a kind of grudging tolerance, and that offensive warfare against unbelievers is the Qur’an’s final and binding word on jihad. See here for an Islamic explication of that idea, which dates as far back as the eighth century, when it was enunciated by Muhammad’s first biographer, Ibn Ishaq. Another thing Aslan seems not to want you to know is that it is those Islamic exegetes who are the “idea logs” and “bigots,” as it is they who are focusing on one part of the Qur’an at the expense of other parts (although actually the Qur’an’s material about tolerance is rather thin). The problem is not with people like Nonie Darwish, who merely report on mainstream Muslim understandings of the Qur’an.
Aslan further, whether because of his abysmal lack of analytical abilities or from a deliberate intent to deceive, claims that the Torah “commands the Jews to enact genocide upon every non-believer of Yaway [sic],” which is patently false, and belied in any case by Jewish law and tradition, which have never understood anything in the Torah as commanding any such thing. Aslan likewise misrepresents the Christian tradition, trying to give the impression that Jesus’ saying that he had not come to bring peace, but a sword, was somehow equivalent to the Qur’an’s exhortations to jihad — despite the fact that although Christians have waged holy wars in the past, no mainstream sect of Christianity has ever had a doctrine of warfare comparable to that which is universal among mainstream Islamic sects.
Later the conversation turns to Sharia, at pretty much where it left Aslan — claiming that the Bible is essentially as violent and capable of inciting its adherents to violence as the Qur’an:
JENNY BROCKIE: That’s a point – Plenty of slang and stoning in the Bible too. We are talking about rising anti-Islamic sentiment Europe and in the US, and what is driving it, Reza Aslan, I would like to come back to you, we hear a lot about Sharia law, I would like you to explain from your perspective, what it is, and how important it is to Muslim identity.
REZA ASLAN: There’s really no such thing as just Sharia, it’s not one monolithic Continuum – Sharia is understood in thousands of different ways over the 1,500 years in which multiple and competing schools of law have tried to construct some kind of civic penal and family law code that would abide by Islamic values and principles, it’s understood in many different ways, there are three foundational issues or three divisions that I should say that Sharia fits into, one is penal law of course and that is what gets all the attention, there’s two countries in the world right now that actually have a Federal mandate to enact penal law according to the Sharia, that’s Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
Then there’s financial law, obviously, which has become quite popular, actually in the US and in the west, ever since the global economic meltdown, and then there is something about family law, and that involves marriage, divorce, inheritance, these kinds of issues. So when you say Sharia, even to a Muslim, it’s understood in vastly different ways, in many ways it’s part of an identity and most Muslims when they talk about wanting Sharia to play a role in their lives really mean it in so far as it talks about family law, you know, issues like, as I said marriage, divorce.
The claim that Sharia is “not one monolithic Continuum” is yet another borrowed talking point that Aslan trots out on this show. Islamic apologists in the West routinely insist that Sharia is so multifarious and complex that it is impossible to say definitively what it says about any particular issue. They say this when non-Muslims bring up uncomfortable matters such as stonings and amputations. In reality, the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madhahib) agree on about 75% of all questions (including those uncomfortable bits about jihad, dhimmitude, the death penalty for apostates, stonings, amputations, etc.), so it is not at all illegitimate to speak of Sharia rules — as Reza Aslan well knows.
Also, Aslan concentrates in his response largely on the aspects of Sharia that make it appear commonplace and non-threatening — marriage, divorce, inheritance laws. He knows, of course, that those aren’t the aspects of Sharia that make people concerned about it (although polygamy and divorce by a single word at the whim of the husband are indeed matters of concern, or should be, for feminists and everyone concerned about human rights). Then he introduces still another set of borrowed talking points:
In the United States we have all across this country, we have dozens of Halakha courts, in which particularly observant Jews can take these issues of family law to an orthodox Court and have that judge, judge for them. In the United Kingdom they do the same for Catholic and Jewish communities, we see the same thing in Europe with Muslim communities, looking to Sharia courts. As long as the courts don’t violate the laws of the land and as long as there’s a room for appeal should one or two parties disagree with the verdict, I don’t see how this would have anything to do with being incompatible with what we refer to as Western ideas of democracy.
Here Aslan echoes the oft-repeated idea that Sharia courts in the West are equivalent to Jewish courts. David Yerushalmi ably dismantled that idea two years ago, here. Above all, Jewish courts (and Catholic courts) deal exclusively with private matters among believers, while Islamic law asserts jurisdiction in the political sphere and over non-believers. But you will never hear about that from Reza Aslan.
JENNY BROCKIE: How comfortably do those values in Sharia law sit with democratic values?
REZA ASLAN: There’s no such thing as values in Sharia law, that is what I was trying to explain, it’s understood in thousands of different ways by tens of thousands of different institutions, who really disagree with each other far more than they disagree with people of other religions, the values that you bring to Sharia are whatever values you yourself have, if you are a bigot, misogynist and a violent person, your interpretation of Sharia will be bigoted, violent and misogynistic, if you are a democrat and a pluralist and someone who is peace loving, that’s how you’ll see the Sharia.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nonie, a response from you?
NONIE DARWISH: This is very evasive – Sharia law is a Malignant law, it’s totally based on the interpretation of the Koran and the Hajid [sic], and the way Islam and the profit [sic] lived. I don’t know understand why he’s white washing the meaning of Sharia – Sharia is a set of laws…..
REZA ASLAN: I’m a scholar of Sharia, that’s why.
NONIE DARWISH: Excuse me…. I’m a scholar of Sharia, too.
REZA ASLAN: Excuse me.NONIE DARWISH: Sharia is the most oppressive system on earth. It encourages people to lie, if it’s for the benefits of Islam. It doesn’t allow Muslims to leave Islam, and there’s a death penalty in all the schools of Sharia against those that leave Islam. Sharia defines what jihad is. Sharia is very clear. It’s not…
REZA ASLAN: These are patterns of false statements. I’m confused.
NONIE DARWISH: I am speaking, I did not interrupt you.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nonie quickly, then I’ll get a response from Reza.
NONIE DARWISH: Jihad is described as a war against Muslims, to establish the religion, the West is concerned, let’s be open with them. Why this deception.
JENNY BROCKIE: Reza, a quick response from you.
NONIE DARWISH: Moderate Muslims are trying to convince the West that Sharia is good instead of trying to…
JENNY BROCKIE: I’ll stop you there, there’s a lot of other people that want to talk. Reza, quickly a response.
REZA ASLAN: I don’t have a response to that, every word she says is factually incorrect. I don’t really know what to say.
Nonie asserted that Sharia allows Muslims to lie to further the Islamic cause, mandates a death penalty for apostates, and calls for jihad warfare against unbelievers. Aslan, in response, claims that all that is “factually incorrect.” For lying, see here, re Qur’an 3:28. For the death penalty for apostates, see here. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom John Esposito classes as a “reformist,” says that “the Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-`ashriyyah, Al-Ja`fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed.” Does Reza Aslan dispute Qaradawi’s contention about the schools of Islamic jurisprudence?
And for jihad warfare, see here. Can Reza Aslan produce one recognized school of Islamic jurisprudence (as opposed to an individual innovative scholar) who teaches against lying to unbelievers when under pressure, the death penalty for apostates, and jihad warfare against unbelievers? No, he can’t, because such a school of Islamic jurisprudence does not exist.
Later, back to Reza:
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I get a response from you Reza to the man’s concerns.
REZA ASLAN: Well, as I said, what he’s talking about is the very long penal codes that one finds in the multiple, multiple schools of Sharia. And those are absolutely totally and completely incompatible with human rights, with modernity, constitutionalism, democracy, there’s no question about that, there’s no question that there isn’t a single Muslim individual or institution in the United States that’s calling for those laws. Indeed, passing a law in any state in this country saying that, you know, Sharia cannot be a legal code here is sort of like passing a law forbidding Americans were riding unicorns because we have a constitution, we only have one penal code in the United States, and it applies in every single state, every city, no matter who is there. This is part of the fear mongering, that has gripped the United States, the notion that we need to pass a law forbidding the institution of a foreign Law in the United States when it is forbidden by the constitutions is yet another example of targeting Muslim communities because they are seen as different, or exceptional in other ways.
So because no Muslim is calling for Sharia, which is not established as a certainty, we need not make any provision against it. The problem with this is that everywhere Muslims have ever been in significant numbers, they have ultimately called for imposition of the political aspects of Sharia. Why should the U.S. be different? Reza Aslan doesn’t say. He would rather you simply assume, in defiance of a mountain of historical evidence, that this time it will be different. But it won’t. And he, with all his oily deceptions, detours, and half-truths, is one of the reasons why.
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